mordicai caeli (mordicai) wrote,
mordicai caeli

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The Assassin's Handbook. (44)

The Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah Blum.

Reading Schopenhauer,
Studies in Pessimisim.
Time to drink poison!

Take that, Eleven-Books Club, I totally finished this book with time to spare. Heck, I finished it before the new episode of The Legend of Korra came on, even. Cutting it close, though; I usually buzzsaw through the required reading a week in advance or so but I went down to the line with this one. The Poisoner's Handbook is sort of an attempt to bottle the lightning that Mary Roach rides, which is to say it is a non-academic look at a topic that relies on anecdote & context to liven the subject up. It take a bit to really get cracking, but eventually it does start going somewhere. Personally, I prefer a little bit more scholastic approach to non-fiction-- I would have appreciated a little more chemistry, maybe some structural illustrations-- but that is alright, I understand that trade non-fiction is a tricky category. I will say it avoids the "over-long magazine article" category, which is a bit of a coup, since most popular non-fiction is basically just a ten thousand word argument bulked up to eighty thousand words with circular language. The stars of this book are Norris & Gettler, the medical examiner & toxicologist who basically invented what we think of when we think of a medical examiner or a toxicologist; they were at the forefront of attempts to bring scientific knowhow to criminal forensics. The Jazz Age setting & grotesque outrages make it seem like they'd be perfect cameos for The Monstrumologist. In fact, speaking of monster hunters-- remember in that Wellington werewolf book, Overwinter, how there is a guy who gave himself agyria by drinking silver? So the werewolves couldn't bite him? Well, when the sideshow performed called The Blue Man died, Gettler dissolved his body & extracted three & a half ounces of silver from his tissues...which his staff then made into a bullet for him, just in case. So yeah. Monster hunters. Reading the bits of the book about the struggle to remove "lead"-- tetraethyl lead, or TEL-- from gasoline was spooky, mostly because it reads so much like a snapshot of the modern political landscape, where the struggle between "this terrible poison is killing people" & "well but a corporation needs to make infinite profit" is still ongoing. The FDA, the EPA, fraking, emissions, Deepwater Horizon, all of it is cut from the same cloth. & of course, reading about the Prohibition just makes me think of the modern day witchhunt surrounding marijuana, an equally ridiculous piece of political theater which primarily provides tools to incarcerate black people. Hey, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, I guess. This book is a relative of both Blood & Guts & Poisons-- after reading in the latter that people used arsenic to permanently dilate their pupils, I thought it might be cool to have weird anime-eyed characters in Oubliette & this has stiffened my resolve. I think the next campaign will have a cult of undeath-- arsenic being useful as a mummifying agent-- full of acolytes with arsenic whitened skin & eerily huge pupils.
Tags: 11booksclub, blum, books, haiku

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